Tulip Mania!
April 3, 2003 3:56 PM   Subscribe

Follow the pollen trail... The recent volatility on the stock market has nothing on the Tulip Mania that swept Holland in 1637. They went so gaga over over the colorful heralds of spring that one blossom obsessed fella, for example, sold a brewery to buy a single bulb. It's become an example of what happens when we become economically overconfident. Myself, I'd rather deal in flowers than money, anyway.
posted by moonbird (13 comments total)
Aw, Moonbird! This is wicked cool--I planted bulbs for the first time this year, and (and hey, I can see them from the window, out there in the "blue room") thinking about how in Turkey a few centuries ago, my picket fence would be sacred ground!

In 17th century Holland, I'd be a scadzillionaire.
posted by padraigin at 4:21 PM on April 3, 2003

What a GREAT link! Tulipmania and other investment fads are detailed in a GREAT book Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds. It is is from this book, I believe, that we get the phrase "irrational exhuberance" to explain the hooey people believe when they faddishly invest. Did I mention GREAT link?
posted by answergrape at 4:30 PM on April 3, 2003

In addition to discussing Tulipmania, Extraordinary Popular Delusions includes great discussion of such subjects as alchemy, witch-hunts, prophesy, the Crusades, "the Slow Poisoners" and duels. In short, wonderful and enlightening book that is well worth reading.
posted by ilsa at 4:48 PM on April 3, 2003

Love the Dutch. Proper!
posted by The Jesse Helms at 4:57 PM on April 3, 2003

This is fascinating reading, and something I've always meant to look into. The bulb.com site is wonderful. Great post.
posted by iconomy at 6:06 PM on April 3, 2003

Digesting this reminds me just a bit of the part in Douglas Adam's Life, the Universe, and Everything where the newly earthbound Golgafrincham's solve their economic problems by declaring leaves to be currency.

Of course, speculation is slightly different... you estimate that most people will value something more highly in the future than it is valued now. The prophecy can reinforce itself: as you buy up supply, scarcity increases, and also, the future projected value almost becomes the current value: you or anyone else are less willing to sell for anything less.

Of course, if I could, I'd be doing some of the same with real estate. But as for flowers, I prefer to just enjoy them. What is a flower, anyway?
posted by weston at 7:28 PM on April 3, 2003

Thanks all for the feedback. The red and yellow tulips under the oak tree out back undid their robes today and wowed us with their simple, luxuriant blooms... a cosmic floral burlesque of sorts. I can almost imagine why someone would risk going bust for such bold buds, especially since flowers can come to represent fertility and potency, envied traits in many forms. If we invested en masse in beauty rather than scarcity life as we know it would certainly look rather different.
posted by moonbird at 9:00 PM on April 3, 2003

Damn betcha it would.
posted by padraigin at 9:38 PM on April 3, 2003

My mild case of Tulipmania happened three years ago. I got into reading those damn Dutch catalogs and before I knew it I had accidently bought 1,200 bulbs. No one would help me plant them and my back was killing me so I planted some everyday. I ran out of flowerbeds so I just planted them anywhere I could: Along the road, in the fields, across the street from my house on the county right of way, down by the creek, out by the barn. It was hell. Until spring finally got here. And there are hundreds of them busting out all over the place right now, and it makes me feel good. Those were simpler times three years ago.
posted by Mack Twain at 10:42 PM on April 3, 2003

I ran out of flowerbeds so I just planted them anywhere I could: Along the road, in the fields, across the street from my house on the county right of way, down by the creek, out by the barn.

Mack, that's beautiful... even just in the literal sense. The metaphor may be even more beautiful.
posted by weston at 11:21 PM on April 3, 2003

answergrape: irrational exuberance first appeared in an Alan Greenspan speech in 1996.
posted by dhartung at 12:15 AM on April 4, 2003

I read Tulipomania a year or so ago, it gives a great insight into the craze. Unfortunately, the most desired flowers were variants that no longer exist; all we have are oil paintings to give us an impression of what the looked like. Additionally, the very best, or "broken" flowers were victims of a mosaic virus.
There was also an earlier, less well documented craze in northern France, and a later craze in Consantinople.
posted by doozer_ex_machina at 5:18 AM on April 4, 2003

weston - have you ever read The Alchemy of Finance by George Soros? It's about the self-fulfilling nature of speculative bubbles, a principle Soros calls "reflexivity".
posted by jeb at 9:18 AM on April 4, 2003

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